Hey Google, what’s a pillar page and can it improve my site’s ranking?

Google search

What’s the last search you typed into Google?

Don’t say it out loud; I can’t be responsible for the backlash from your co-workers.

But was it a word or phrase, or was it a full-blown sentence or question?

Today’s Google searches are morphing into more conversational queries. It’s becoming more common now for people to ask complex questions using full sentences. Rather than the fragmented “freeze-dried ice cream” that would have been likely just a few years ago, aspiring astronauts are now typing, “where can I buy the best freeze-dried ice cream in bulk?” And their smarty-pants search engine counterparts are changing algorithms behind the scenes to keep up with this trend.

I’m not saying I’m ahead of the curve here, but I’ve been asking Google questions from the start due to my late-90s obsession with Ask Jeeves—the mystery know-it-all butler.

AskJeevesWhere can I get Shakespeare Cliffs Notes?”

“Why isn’t there an apostrophe in ‘Cliffs Notes’?”

“Why do people call it ‘Cliff Notes’ even though that’s NOT THE NAME?”

The Jeeveses (Jeevi?) of today are Google, Siri, and Alexa, which are becoming more and more common and soon, the days of us manually researching answers to our problems will be gone because we can ask them to our devices aloud much quicker than we can type them into a search engine.

We shouldn’t ignore those keywords that we’d typically type into the search engine—they’re still relevant. But when focusing on SEO and trying to rank for keywords, we should focus on the bigger picture to keep up with search behavior. We can do this by creating broad topics that our content can nestle into, establishing topic clusters. A topic cluster is content written around a particular search term that contains interlinked articles or pages.

Check out this short video from Hubspot, explaining the Next Evolution of Content Strategy:

We’re not suggesting you tear apart your current site if it’s working. But if you have a convoluted site with multiple service areas, it’s probably worth a look. Each topic cluster should start with a “pillar” page, which is the main focus—a generalized subject. The pillar page should link to other pages with more specific, related content for that subject.

How do I create pillar pages?

  • Identify topics that are relevant to your brand and audience or organize your existing content into main topics (pillars).
  • Construct each pillar page URL to reflect the broad topics.
  • Organize your content into subtopics for each pillar.
  • Link to related content within your site on that main pillar page.
  • If applicable, link the subpages in a cluster to each other.

For example, let’s say your site is a resource for teenagers. One of your topics might be “quick meals.” It’s a broad topic that allows for more detailed subtopics, like “to make when your parents aren’t around” or “between school and practice,” that can be fleshed out on other pages.

The URL might be: www.TeensToday.com/quick-meals

Your pillar page might have the following copy summarizing the topic:

These days, everyone is so busy that it’s more common for us to eat meals on the go. Families are increasingly eating dinner separately. Whether you’re latch-keying it, stopping home quickly after school before practice, or feeling shamed by your friends about your recent streak at McDonald’s, there’s no reason to go without.

After the topic is introduced, provide internal links to related content targeting narrowly defined subtopics:

Check out our blog posts to find out what to make when you’re on your own for dinner:

  • Who Ever Said Eggos Don’t Count as Dinner?
  • Hot Pockets – Be Careful: They’re Wicked Hot
  • Delicious Cereals That Contain Marshmallows and Energy

If your current content already fits nicely under your pillars, it’s just a matter of linking up all related material. In the example above, the Eggos blog could link to the Cereal blog by way of a comment about eating breakfast foods for dinner.

If you’re finding you now need additional content, that will obviously take more time, but it’ll be worth it in terms of ranking. Try adding blog posts or videos, which are easily digestible, or maybe adding a page to your site like “Resources,” where you house white papers and case studies relevant to each pillar page that link back to that main page. The linking action signals to search engines that the pillar page is an authority on the topic, boosting your search engine ranking over time.

Don’t stop there, though; with inbound marketing, it’s important to continually monitor how you’re ranking for certain topics so you know what works and what doesn’t—I don’t think Jeeves is up to speed on that.

Do you have any tips for pillar pages or topic clusters? Let us know in the comments below!